Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols must have known what would come next when she announced a $4.2 million state contract with an out-of-state consulting firm to come up with recommendations of how to reduce state spending by $500 million a year.
Political observers and bloggers wanted to know why the Jindal administration, entering its seventh year in office, needed to call on outside contractors to do what it claimed to be expert at already. Isn’t finding new ways to do more with less what Gov. Bobby Jindal does in his sleep?
His administration clearly has a track record in this area, as many a state worker laid off due to privatization can attest. It only makes sense that Team Jindal would also privatize cost-cutting. The consultant, Alvarez & Marsal, cannot be said to be inefficient, as it proposes to fulfill the terms of its three-year contract in just four months, enabling it to come back for more.
Still, critics ask if there aren’t people in state government who could do this job as well, or better, by coming up with recommendations that actually work and would still enable agencies to deliver the public services required of them.
Of course, there are, but they don’t work for the Jindal administration. The administration has been hearing enough already, thank you, from Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera and his staff about how not to run state government. Over the past year, a steady stream of audits from that office has laid the wood to the Jindal administration over waste, inefficiency neglect of duty.
Reports have shown prisoners receiving food stamps, Medicaid premiums paid for dead people, millions of dollars in severance taxes uncollected, lack of oversight of schools receiving voucher payments and a wide disparity in property tax assessments reviewed by the state tax commission.
In most cases, the response of the administration has been to grin and bear it; to largely agree with audit findings and announce corrective actions.
Purpera is unassuming and low-key in demeanor, befitting the career state employee he was until the Legislature appointed him to his post in 2010. He is also straightforward in his pursuit of the facts, just the facts, in the mode of a latter-day Joe Friday, the relentlessly questioning TV cop. “I carry a badge,” said Friday. When he needs it, Purpera packs a subpoena.
The administration has not been his only target. Purpera’s office followed up on The Shreveport Times’ investigation of Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Walter Lee’s expense reimbursements. The resulting audit documents double-billing and other schemes by Lee that will, according to the local district attorney, result in criminal charges.
The auditor only answers to an advisory council of legislators, and cannot be removed without a two-thirds vote of both houses. Purpera’s chop-busting audits have raised his profile to that of a major player in state government. Yet he has disavowed any interest in running for office, and he has resisted being pulled into political battles. When asked for an opinion on the power of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East to sue 97 oil companies for damage to coastal marshes, Purpera responded that some interesting questions have been raised, but they are for a judge to decide.
With a budget of $32.5 million, the staff of 293, including 95 CPAs, churns out the work, regularly auditing not just state agencies but also hundreds of local governments and boards. In the past year, however, Purpera and staff decided to take a more pro-active “strategic approach,” as he terms it, in deciding what to audit in state government. “We look at where the risk is,” he told LaPolitics.com.
As a result, the recent flow of critical audits has blown holes in the Jindal narrative of his cost-conscious, results-oriented management. The audits point not to corruption but rather to an administration ignoring or botching regular functions of state government.
The resulting bad press, perhaps, has something to do with the administration now bringing in its own efficiency experts to help it find ways, if not to do its job better, at least to do it for less, which makes for just as good a headline.
Edwin Edwards Not Going Quietly
Edwin Edwards will not be ignored. His long-running detractors may have hoped that the mercifully quick exit from the cable dial of his and his wife’s reality TV show would mean that the 86-year-old former ruler and ex-convict would finally just fade, fade away. But no.
It didn’t take much to get him back in the headlines, even nationally, with only a report on the website The Hayride that said he is considering running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District.
Edwards coyly gave no comment to the Times-Picayune, but added, as prospective candidates often do, that he has received a “lot of encouragement” from old supporters, including his daughter Anna, who want him to run for some kind of office.
After all those years as city councilman, state senator, congressman, governor and prison librarian, it’s touching that Edwards is still ready to offer himself for public service. The cynical might add that he misses most the limelight, which A&E Network so brusquely yanked away. A congressional campaign might bring the cameras back, though the plot line might not appeal to his wife, Trina. “The Candidate’s Wife” hasn’t got quite the same ring to it.
Some other old supporters might wonder, if Edwards is going to run for some kind of office, why choose the U.S. House of Representatives? Far from the House that Edwards left in 1972 to become governor, it is now a place of all work, no play and getting little done. At his age, at any age, who wants to spend that much time in the Atlanta airport waiting for a flight connection to go to work? Add to that the endless fundraising, not to mention all those constituents with their little problems.
Though the 6th District seat will be open, with its current congressman, Bill Cassidy, now running for the U.S. Senate, the territory is hardly inviting to Edwards. Back in the day, he usually polled worse in the Baton Rouge area than the rest of the state, perhaps because the press corps there followed his misadventures so closely. The most recent redistricting turned the 6th redder than Red Stick, by reducing its black population, which was Edwards’ base, from about a third to just over 20 percent.
Since a resident of the state can run in any congressional district, Edwards likely would do better in the New Orleans-based 2nd Congressional District, which passes not far from his Ascension Parish home on its way upriver. But the 2nd has an incumbent Democrat, Congressman Cedric Richmond, and Edwards as a loyal partisan would not challenge him or, for the same reason, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. He could always run in his old Acadiana-based 7th District, renumbered the 3rd, but Congressman Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, is married to Edwards’ niece, so it would not do to mess with family.
A campaign for Congress in the 6th seems all that is left for him, because his dream job, to be governor again, is off limits until 15 years after the end of his prison sentence, so says the state constitution, short of a presidential pardon. It’s questionable if a governor’s pardon would do the trick, in that Edwards was convicted in federal court. Yet, for the rest of this governor’s term, the point is moot.
Similarly, Edwards, or, rather, those encouraging his comeback bid, are drifting in a nostalgic fantasy. Running for Congress is daunting, but talking about it is cheap. His age and record (and not his voting record) are the obvious obstacles. While there are nine House members 80 years or older, (two served with former congressman Edwards), there are no ex-convicts.
The notion that voters in a solidly Republican district would send the state’s most notorious Democrat, at age 87, to start anew in Washington goes beyond reality TV to well into the Twilight Zone.
But that some glimmer of fascination remains about him says something about the current state of Louisiana politics. For all that many hold against him, the former governor possesses what has gone missing in the leading politicians of our day: personality. Our current congressional delegation, along with state officeholders, could be mistaken for those from Missouri.
The cautionary tale of Edwin Edwards could be a big reason why the color has washed out of our political tapestry. We may be better off with the blandness of current leadership, but it is not, as Edwards occasionally reminds, the way we were.